Google executive Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson arrived in North Korea on Monday to hold talks on private matters, including potentially securing the release of a detained Korean-American.
The two officials are visiting the country despite misgivings from the United States.
Schmidt has said that the trip will also focus on North Korea’s business climate and social media, although Richardson’s office termed the trip as “a private humanitarian mission,” according to a statement over the weekend.
Schmidt’s trip seems a bit odd, as North Korea has some of the strictest Web controls in the world and few of its citizens have access to the Internet, save a small handful of wealthy and powerful individuals. Richardson said Schmidt is “interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect,” reported The New York Times, which said he did not elaborate further.
Richardson told the paper he would attempt to visit imprisoned American Kenneth Bae, a South Korean-born man who was arrested for “hostile acts” against North Korea after he entered the country as a tourist last November.
“I heard from his son who lives in Washington State, who asked me to bring him back,” Richardson said in Beijing before his flight to North Korea, the Times reported. “I doubt we can do it on this trip.” Richardson has visited the impoverished, communist nation several times in the past.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Richardson and Schmidt’s visit is a “a delegation of the Google corp.,” confirming they arrived in Pyongyang’s airport on Monday.
“This is not a Google trip, but I’m sure he’s interested in some of the economic issues there, the social media aspect. So this is why we are teamed up on this,” Richardson told The Associated Press.
“We’ll meet with North Korean political leaders. We’ll meet with North Korean economic leaders, military. We’ll visit some universities. We don’t control the visit. They will let us know what the schedule is when we get there,” he added.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed her department’s misgivings last week about the visit.
“We don’t think the timing of the visit is helpful, and they’re well aware of our views,” she said, according to a transcript.
The two men also are not “going on [the] behalf” of the U.S. government, and “no American official is going with them,” she said. “They are not carrying any messages from us.”
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